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As Afghan war winds down, U.S. can better manage its military budget -- Obama.

As the United States starts winding down the war in Afghanistan, there will not be a huge peace dividend right away, but the U.S. government will be able to more responsibly manage its military budget, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.Answering a question from a man attending a backyard political stop for the President in Des Moines, Iowa, Obama said, "You cannot say you want to balance the budget and not take on reform in the Pentagon".His administration already has pushed hard to eliminate some weapons programs in the Pentagon budget that the generals say are not needed, Obama said."But getting those programs shut down is very difficult, because typically there is not a single weapons program out there that does not have some part being built in 40 different congressional districts, in 10 or 20 different states, so that everybody has a political vested interest in keeping it going, " he said.The President's remarks were prompted by a man who wanted to know when the United States can look forward to reducing the huge spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done well in "pushing hard" to reduce some Pentagon weapons systems, "and we have won some battles, but that is going to be an area that we are going to take a serious look at ... when we put forward a plan for getting a handle on our long-term debt and deficits," Obama said.Obama noted that when he ran for U.S. president, he opposed the war in Iraq from the start."I made a commitment that I would bring that war to a responsible end," he said. "We have now ended our combat mission in Iraq, and we have pulled out 100,000 troops out of Iraq since I was in office. So that is a commitment we followed up on".The war in Afghanistan was one that most people understood was "important and necessary" in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Obama said."We had to go after those who had killed 3,000 Americans," he said. "We had to make sure that al Qaeda did not have a safe haven inside Afghanistan to plan more attacks".It is speculative as to whether the United States would have created a stable situation in Afghanistan by now, without a significant U.S. presence, if U.S. forces had not invaded Iraq in 2003, but had instead stayed focused on Afghanistan, Obama said, "but that is not what happened".When he became President in early 2009, the situation in Afghanistan had badly deteriorated over the course of seven years, and the Taliban was starting to take over half of the country again, Obama said."You had a very weak Afghan government, and in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, you had al Qaeda still plotting to attack the United States," he said.Obama said he was committed to putting additional troops and money into training Afghan forces and making sure that the Afghan government can provide basic services to its people."But what I also said is we are not going to do it in an open-ended way," he said. "We are going to have a time frame within which Afghans start having to take more responsibility for their own country".Next July, "we are going to begin a transition of shifting from U.S. troops to Afghan troops in many of these areas," he added.Afghanistan was much less developed than Iraq, with no significant traditions of a strong central government that could provide services to its people, or a civil service, or the basic infrastructure of a modern nation state, Obama said."So we are not going to get it perfect there," he said. "It is messy, it is hard".But what is evident "is the possibility of training up Afghan forces more effectively, keeping pressure on al Qaeda so that they are not able to launch big attacks, and that over the next several years, as we start phasing down, those folks start lifting up," he said.

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Publication:Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)
Date:Sep 29, 2010
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